Friday, August 14, 2009

Social Security

On this day in 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act. It had originated as a pension for old people without means––until 1935 most old people lived in poverty. But conservatives insisted it be a pension for rich and poor alike. The tax to cover it was capped to make sure wealthier Americans weren't paying too much in. And the provision for health care would have to wait until Medicare was passed in the 1960s. But Social Security did alleviate poverty among the elderly. It was efficient, practical, and the checks arrived like clockwork. Still do.

The first person to receive a Social Security check (number 00-000-001) was a retired secretary who'd worked for Calvin Coolidge's Vermont law firm. Her name was Ida May Fuller. She was philosophically opposed to the idea, being a lifelong Republican, but if she qualified she was determined to get the money."It wasn't that I expected anything, mind you, but I knew I'd been paying for something called Social Security and I wanted to ask the people in Rutland about it."

Her first check, which arrived in January 1940, was for $22.54. During the last three years of her working life Ida May Fuller paid a total of $24.75 into the Social Security system. By the time she died at age 100, she'd received $22,888.92 in benefits. A nice return. She never thought much of the New Deal. Ida May Fuller appears twice in A Book of Ages.

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